By Peter Shango

Nigerians can confidently attest to the annihilation of the Boko Haram insurgents and near complete triumph of federal troops in the war against terrorism in the North East and elsewhere in the country, since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office as President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

The previously irrepressible Boko Haram terrorists have now been conquered within months of the assumption of duty by Gen. Tukur Buratai, as Nigeria’s Chief of Army of Staff (COAS).

Buratai, a man famed for strictness, who keeps eagle eyes on professionalism and results on assignments, accomplished the feat after he read the riot act to his foot soldiers to subdue the insurgents no matter the cost.

Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai
Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai

It led to unrestrained offensive unleashed against the insurgents and the serial victories. But spreading his tentacles of conquest further afield, Buratai and his officers have faced another equally dreadful insurrection – the herders and rustlers spate of unjustified violence across the nation.

Nigeria for years now has been basking for breath under these two hyper sensitive insecurity issues. With the conquest of Boko Haram terrorists, Buratai and his men are now tackling the entrenched violence and bestiality in some parts of Nigeria instigated by cattle herders and rustlers.

And as usual, the COAS has issued marching orders to Nigerian soldiers to instantly end the plaque of herders who have besiege some communities in the country and the “favourite” trade of cattle rustling, with its own versions of brutality and criminality.

Those extricated from the vicious circle of herders-induced violence might just be lucky. They may not fully appreciate the severity of the problem or the pains and agonies of the victims.

But from the plains of the far North; the grassy valleys in the Middle Belt, and to some parts of the South, dozens of communities have fallen prostrate before the criminally violent activities of armed cattle herders and rustlers.

Besides, there is the suspicion of herds­men using their cattle as vectors to transport arms on bush paths into Nigeria, in the guise of grazing.

These are some of the crimes against the Nigerian state now linked to herders. With every onslaught on unsuspecting communities, incalculable damage is done to lives and property.

And within the short time Buratai has refocused the army to square up with herders and rustlers, heat has descended on their camps, especially in the North West.

In some states of the far North like Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa and Kebbi among others, cattle rustling is reputed as very profitable and one successful raid by armed bandits could fetch them hundreds of herds worth millions of naira.

It explains why the cattle rustling trade is thriving amazingly. Just recently, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division Nigeria Army, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade gave a gory insight into the capacity of the rustlers. His soldiers launched “Operation Sharan Daji”, in North West zone and after raiding rustlers camps, soldiers killed at least 35 armed bandits in combat and arrested another 38 , who were handed over to the police for prosecution.

Also, over 6, 000 animals of various kinds were equally recovered from the camps. It is just a tip of the iceberg. Similar operations in states like Kaduna, Niger, Kano and Katsina states led to the destruction of 49 camps operated by the bandits. In virtually all the operations, arms and ammunitions were recovered from the rustlers.

Meanwhile, herders’ clashes with farmers in some North central states is another torn in the flesh. In agrarian states like Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Plateau and so forth, rains for another cropping season have started. But farmers have abandoned farms for fear of being cornered and murdered by herders or their suspected mercenaries.

The effect of this negative phenomenon on national economy and food security is enormous. The few courageous farmers who cultivate small farm lands would eventually have their crops eaten by Fulani cattle, unrestricted. Therefore, it is a recurring vicious evil that would hatch hunger and starvation across the land as well as create food insecurity crisis in the country, if not arrested now.

Gladly, the heat is on them at the moment. Thanks to the gallantry of officers of the Nigerian army under the leadership of Buratai. And some unscrupulous persons who benefit from the nefarious acts of the armed bandits in cattle rustling are unhappy with COAS’s renewed interest to tame the tiger, as he has proved in the case of Boko Haram. And to distract his attention, these invidious persons have resorted to media trial of the COAS and blackmail of his person to dampen his spirit on the battle field, but embolden the herders and rustlers against the Nigerian state.

And the recent presumed tool in the hands of the detractors is the report purportedly emanating from the Kaduna State Government alleging death of some 347 Shiite members during the December 12, 2015 clash with the Nigerian Army in Zaria. Hence the brains behind the report have the exclusive knowledge of what provokes Nigerians; they claimed burial of the dead in a mass grave would massively trigger outrage from Nigerians.

They have mouthed nothing fresh in the report titled, “Zaria Massacre: Should Buratai be Put on Trial?” that has not been articulated before now. But since the plot to blackmail Buratai is a project that must be executed, the issue is resurrected again based on the hazy submissions of the Secretary to the Kaduna State Government (SSG), Alh. Balarabe Lawal, at the judicial commission of inquiry into the crisis. His account of the incident is anchored on media reports, which the Army has deflated a long time ago.

The report said, “Lawal told the panel that 191 corpses were taken from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, and were buried at Mando area of Kaduna…. 156 corpses were also conveyed from the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, to the same Mando area. The corpses were said to be those of youth members of the Islam Movement (IMN) who were killed in attack by the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Dec. 12, 2015, in Zaria.”

How the SSG’s submissions at the panel alone should form the crux of anybody’s analysis, cast in the mode of opinion poll as to whether Buratai should be put on trial for the alleged massacre makes one wonder. Are proponents of these odious sentiments sure whether the panel would even accept the SSG’s version hook and sinker? If they were decent enough, they should have patiently waited for the recommendations of the panel and probably, a government white paper on it before calling for the crucifixion of Buratai, if indicted.

Why the hurry, when the same IMN or Shiites have taken the case to the ICC and the National Human Rights Commission too is investigating it. And for both, the verdicts are still being awaited.

But to jump the gun at this point is not only thoroughly embarrassing to the writer and his sponsors, but defeats logical reasoning, much as it is nonsensical. But if the intention is to spurn social media activists or lame ducks to influence the verdicts of the various investigation panels on the matter against Buratai, the plot has crumbled on arrival.

The writer of the odious piece betrayed his motive thus; “What is your take on this, should General Buratai be sent to the ICC for the killings of hundreds of innocent Shiite Muslims?”

But Buratai and the generality of the reinvigorated Armed forces of Nigeria are not daunted by rantings of masked persons, to the extent of distraction from battling to a standstill, the twine insecurity issues of insurgency and armed herders/rustlers mayhem on parts of Nigeria.

This battle too is destined for fruitful results and no blackmail can jiggle Buratai. And soon, the afflicted would heave a sigh of relief, as Nigerian soldiers would massively flush out offending herders and rustlers. And no one should distract Gen. Buratai, the grand oracle of the war with polluted agenda, for self-seeking interests. Nigerians are now sure, much as the herders and rustlers, that the game is indeed over, with Buratai as Captain of ship.

Peter Shango, a political affairs analyst writes from Kaduna State.

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